How To Choose A Time For Your Wedding Ceremony

When it comes to picking a ceremony time, there are SO MANY FACTORS that you need to consider. Let’s take a look at 3 things that will affect how to choose a time for your wedding ceremony.


This question will come into play for a number of the following factors, so let’s address it from the get-go.

First, visit From there you can select the city where you’re getting married (or the nearest big city if yours is small and not listed). Next you need to make sure you have the correct month and year selected; then you’ll scroll down to find the day you’re getting married. The first two columns are the sunrise and sunset times. Whatever time is listed for sunset, that’s what time we want to aim to be done with pictures. So for example, if sunset is listed at 7:37pm, I’d usually say we need to be done with pictures by around 7:30. If sunset is at 5:12, I’d recommend being done with pictures by 5:15. I like to round to the nearest 15-minute mark.

(There’s still light left for another 20-ish minutes after the sun sets, but I prefer to be done by the actual sunset time.)

bride and groom exit their wedding ceremony


If you’ve decided not to do a first look, you need to pick a ceremony time with enough light left to do all of your formal pictures (wedding party, family, and couples portraits) before the sun sets. I typically recommend starting your ceremony no later than two hours before sunset.

If you ARE doing a first look, I recommend starting your ceremony no later than one hour before sunset. Doing a first look allows you to get all of your formal wedding party and family pictures done before the ceremony, so once the ceremony is over (for your standard 30-minute ceremony) you’ll still have another 30 minute to do some sunset newlywed photos while your guests transition to the reception.

(If your ceremony is even earlier in the day, you can be announced and spend some time at your reception and then sneak back out when it’s time for sunset photos).

man reads scripture for a downtown chicago wedding ceremony


If your ceremony is happening inside, this section won’t apply to you. If the ceremony is outside, there are a few additional things to consider. First, you need to decide what sort of ambiance you want.

Are you specifically wanting your ceremony to happen as the sun sets, turning from colors to dark dusk? Since there’s still light for about 20 minutes after the listed sunset time, you would want a 30-minute ceremony to start around 20 minutes before sunset. This will be harder to accomplish since ceremony times are typically only at the hour- and half-hour mark. For example, if sunset it at 7:32, the ideal lighting would be from 7:15-7:45. But because 7:15 is an awkward time to have a ceremony time, you would just need to decide if you want it to still be brighter (7:00-7:30) or darker (7:30-8:00) at the end of the ceremony. You would also need to have a first look if you have your ceremony at sunset, and plan to be done with pictures one hour before the ceremony starts.

Or are you wanting your ceremony to happen at night with twinkling lights above you? This sounds absolutely dreamy, but definitely consult with your photographer beforehand to make sure you’re both comfortable with how much light will be available for photos.

wedding ceremony at sunset on the river

And there you have it! Of course there can be any number of factors I haven’t listed here based on your personal preferences, unique elements to your wedding, etc. that will determine how to choose a time for your wedding ceremony. But this is a great place to start for most ceremonies! As always, it’s best to reach out to your photographer and/or wedding planner to talk about all of this as well.

Hope this was helpful! Happy planning!

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